Home is where THE FIVE is
Ten years ago, almost to the day, I arrived in Southern California with a wife, a dream, and a barrage of Ikea furniture.
Ten years later, I’m returning to Northern California with a (different) wife, two dogs, and a dream realized.
For a long time it was difficult adjusting to life in Orange County. The central valley college town I grew up in is far more progressive and operates at a much slower pace. I spent my first half decade down here cracking anti-SoCal jokes and even getting a tattoo of the state of California, with a nautical star inked proudly in the northern half.
In Davis, I was kind of a big fish in a little pond. Not a super big fish by any means, but certainly not the minnow I felt myself transform into the moment Interstate 5 became THE 5. My picture had been in the newspaper weekly, my name almost daily. I nearly ran for city council after covering regional politics for years. I gained a sense of security from my insular community and made some of my greatest friendships – most of which survive to this day. My best man (for both weddings) and my godson reside in the upper half.
My entire identify felt intrinsically tied to Northern California: My lifestyle, my politics, my belief system.
Southern California is sufficiently intimidating without tossing graduate school into the mix. Required to retreat into the mind for my studies, I quickly began retreating too far, fixating on anxieties both small and large. I developed imposter’s syndrome and hypochondria. I was eventually officially diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder after suffering one too many panic attacks (in my defense, WebMD seemed to suggest they might have been “strokes”).
Over time though (and with therapy), I began to view my new home through a very different lens.
I gained a passion, intensified by daily practice, for teaching. Many of my students at four different southern California colleges inspired me with their thoughtfulness and critical reflections. In SoCal, I learned that there are few things I enjoy more in life than standing in front of a classroom making an ass of myself while my students continue to push the limits of what they falsely believe to be the boundaries of their own abilities.
*Side note: While NorCal residents often openly mock SoCal folks (you stole our fricking water!), it rarely works the other way around. Most of the people I have met down here speak very fondly of their travels to the upper half of the state. So, uh, yeah, we’re kind of jerkwads fellow NorCal-ians.
Coping with a divorce, newfound friends, primarily from graduate school and work, flocked to my side with the same level of fierce devotion I had come to expect from my hometown cohort. My friend Vanessa listened to me for hours on end. Hank kept me distracted and taught me all about good food and wine. Jonathan and Mack even played the role of dual wingmen for me!
SoCal is where I also got my first dogs, Shado (misspelling intentional) and Ghost. I had always known that I wanted a dog one day, but I never knew that once I got my own furry companions I would never choose to be without them again.
SoCal is where I learned to abandon my greatest fears: Of heights, of unseen and undetectable diseases.
And most importantly, SoCal is where I met my wife.
My ex-wife is the precise opposite of a bad person, yet we did not support each other’s mental realities. The love of my life understands and accepts all of me, as I do her. We know what baggage is and we know how to carry it for each other.
My wife has opened my eyes to a whole new system of seeing and believing. On the smaller scale, she has gotten me to sample and enjoy the food and companionship of a culture I had previously had little experience with. Her own family welcomed me with open arms and my mother-in-law quickly became my SoCal mom.
My wife allows me to completely be myself; she may be more private and reserved than I am, but she not only allows me to write and share, she encourages it. My wife demonstrates the values of hard work, care for the vulnerable (animals and oppressed populations both), an unflinching loyalty to family. If her kid sister needs a babysitter (a.k.a. movie and nail painting night), she’s there. If her grandma needs help operating an iPhone, my wife drops what she’s doing and comes to her grandmother’s aide. “That’s what you do,” she says.
I am elated to bring the most important parts of my SoCal life back to my NorCal roots. Both of us (and the dogs as well, though they don’t know it yet), are excited to begin this new adventure together.
The biggest change, however, is that I don’t really see myself as a Northern Californian any longer. I am, quite simply, a Californian.
But I can’t wait to drop the habit of saying “the” before a freeway name.